Estimation of absolute microglial cell numbers in mouse fascia dentata using unbiased and efficient stereological cell counting principles

Martin Wirenfeldt, Ishar Dalmau, Bente Finsen

    Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


    Stereology offers a set of unbiased principles to obtain precise estimates of total cell numbers in a defined region. In terms of microglia, which in the traumatized and diseased CNS is an extremely dynamic cell population, the strength of stereology is that the resultant estimate is unaffected by shrinkage or expansion of the tissue. The optical fractionator technique is very efficient but requires relatively thick sections (e.g., > or =20 microm after coverslipping) and the unequivocal identification of labeled cells throughout the section thickness. We have adapted our protocol for Mac-1 immunohistochemical visualization of microglial cells in thick (70 microm) vibratome sections for stereological counting within the murine hippocampus, and we have compared the staining results with other selective microglial markers: the histochemical demonstration of nucleotide diphosphatase (NDPase) activity and the tomato lectin histochemistry. The protocol gives sections of high quality with a final mean section thickness of >20 microm (h=22.3 microm +/- 0.64 microm), and with excellent rendition of Mac-1+ microglia through the entire height of the section. The NDPase staining gives an excellent visualization of microglia, although with this thickness, the intensity of the staining is too high to distinguish single cells. Lectin histochemistry does not visualize microglia throughout the section and, accordingly, is not suited for the optical fractionator. The mean total number of Mac-1+ microglial cells in the unilateral dentate gyrus of the normal young adult male C57BL/6 mouse was estimated to be 12,300 (coefficient of variation (CV)=0.13) with a mean coefficient of error (CE) of 0.06. The perspective of estimating microglial cell numbers using stereology is to establish a solid basis for studying the dynamics of the microglial cell population in the developing and in the injured, diseased and normal adult CNS.

    Original languageEnglish
    Issue number2
    Pages (from-to)129-39
    Number of pages11
    Publication statusPublished - Nov 2003


    • Animals
    • Cell Count
    • Dentate Gyrus
    • Immunohistochemistry
    • Male
    • Mice
    • Mice, Inbred C57BL
    • Microglia
    • Statistics as Topic
    • Journal Article
    • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't


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